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Absolute numbers: Better late than never

Absolute numbers: Better late than never

The demand for Form 17C to be made public came up only because the Commission had shown its reluctance to make public the absolute voting numbers, as it had always done in previous elections.

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Last Updated : 27 May 2024, 23:41 IST
Last Updated : 27 May 2024, 23:41 IST
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The Election Commission has done well to release the constituency-wise data of the absolute number of votes cast in the first five phases of the ongoing Lok Sabha elections after persistently refusing to do so. The Commission came out with the data on Saturday, a day after the Supreme Court refused to direct the Commission to disclose details of Form 17C, which contains the polling data at the booth level.

The Commission had told the court at the time of hearing that it was not legally bound to release the data and that it could be put to mischief if it was released.

The demand for Form 17C to be made public came up only because the Commission had shown its reluctance to make public the absolute voting numbers, as it had always done in previous elections. It is not known why it changed its mind on the matter of absolute numbers after the court had decided not to issue a direction to it.

But perhaps the move will stand it in good stead when the matter comes up before a bench of Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud, perhaps after the court vacation. 

However, the Commission’s statement that there was a “pattern of false narratives and mischievous design to vitiate the electoral process” did not behove a constitutional body whose responsibility it is to be completely transparent on the matter of the number of votes cast. The statement implied that the requests made to the Commission directly or through the court by parties, individuals, civil society organisations or media editorials were all part of a conspiracy to undermine the elections.

These are unseemly combative and adversarial comments usually made by political parties when they have something to hide. The issues which were pointed out and the requests made to the Commission were legitimate and the Commission should have addressed them positively. The issues started with the delay in releasing the final voting figures of the first phase and the failure to provide the absolute numbers.

Transparency, neutrality and credibility are the most important attributes for an Election Commission and the Commission’s actions and non-actions were questioned on each of these counts. It only has itself to blame for having become the object of criticism. The response should have been to look inward and not to look for conspiracies.  

The Supreme Court had declined to order the release of data, as sought in a petition, because it said it did not want to divert the attention of the Commission in the middle of the election process. The court did not appreciate the fact that the data would be most relevant now, and not after the elections.

The court also said the relief sought in the petition was part of the relief sought in a 2019 petition. That points to the problem of important petitions pending in the court for a long time. A petitioner should not be denied relief when it is needed because of the failure of the court to consider it in time.

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